Poets and their readers are sensitive people. A mere handful of days into an as yet undisturbed new year, Julia Copus hands us a collection with which to re-gauge these sensitivities. The World’s Two Smallest Humans is in two parts; the first focuses on time, perspective and relationships, and the second moves, slightly surprisingly, into a confessional account of Copus’s journey through IVF treatment.
In the first sequence, Copus plays with our perception of time, seasons and memory. “This Is the Poem in which I Have Not Left You” is an almost ethereal recollection in which the detail of what happened becomes apparent in its negative image. In “Stars Moving Westwards in a Winter Garden”, the poet paints the seasonality of loss against the backdrop of a world which insists persists in moving on. This theme is further explored in “Heronkind”, which explores the way we shape our lives in pursuit of what we desire, what we dream of, “this feverish/dance between/the wanter and the wanted”.
The ‘what if’ feeling in this part of the collection is developed in a novel way. “Impossible As It Seems” revisits the parting in “This Is the Poem in which I Have Not Left You” and hints that the end may be transformed into a starting over. Copus also adds a twist to the reverse poem in “Miss Jenkins” and “Raymond at 60”. Reversing the lines rather than the words gives a heightened sense of poignancy and importance to the detail of the passing of time.
Yet, it is the final sequence which is the definite highlight and which made my own poet’s heart quicken. In contrast to the initial poems, which use uncertainty almost as a device, here Copus writes in a very grounded way. She throws into relief our own emotional response to IVF, and the fragility of living in the ‘what if … maybe …’.The passage to motherhood is one which women make alone. In “Inventory for a Treatment Room”, Copus concludes with an image of the treatment chair reaching out to her, mirroring her own longing to reach out for a child. Heightened by the clinical backdrop, this image is one which will remain with the reader. The domestic is wonderfully employed in many of these poems, and in “Egg” she gives us an everyday supermarket as a frame through which to look at the very beginning of being. “Inkling” is perhaps the most moving of this collection and deserves a particular mention. Combining beautiful maternal imagery (cradle, carry, crook) and descriptions such as “coracle of my womb” and “heartbeat’s weight”, the poet captures exactly how every delighted expectant mother thinks at the moment of discovering her pregnancy. Now and again, every poet reads something which, in our secret hearts, we wish we had written – this is it for me.
“Leaves”, “Ghost” and “Lapse” close the collection, conveying hope and the ending of hope with powerful images – a brightening window, weeping fig, controlled explosion and stopped tongue. In “Lapse”, Copus blends both skill and courage in comparing the malfunction of her womb to the fist of the infant it failed to nurture. At the finish of The World’s Two Smallest Humans we are left wanting more: more beautiful imagery and sound, more stirring of our emotion, and indeed more intelligent and poetic commentary on what we hope will form the basis of her next collection – being a mother.